Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Coming to you today from WeWork’s offices in the Houston Galleria, and I’m very pleased to have as my guest, Brittany Barreto, Co-founder and CEO of Pheramor. Brittany, welcome to the show.
Brittany: Thank you for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Pheramor.
Brittany: Pheramor is a genetic based dating app. I’m a geneticist, I have a Ph.D. in Genetics, and there’s actually decades worth of research showing that you can predict who is attracted to who because of your genes. Pheramor is a dating app that’s live here in Houston where you can download it, purchase a genetic kit, swab your mouth—we say #swabdontswipe, mail it back to us, we sequence the genes for attraction and then what we do is we match you with local singles through our app and show you how compatible you are with all the local singles.
Russ: Very interesting. I’m not very up with the dating services up to date, but is anybody else doing this?
Brittany: No. Nobody else is doing anything that has to do with any data whatsoever. So, you know there’s the dating apps that are swiping based, Tinder and Bumble, but there’s no data there, people are swiping in the dark. Then you have Match.com and eHarmony, which is more for wanting to get married that year. There’s nothing in the middle for young, working professionals looking to find authentic connection but don’t have time to go on bad first dates. They’re data driven decision makers and they come to Pheramor.
Russ: When you say there’s others that are swiping but there’s no data there, are they just faking it?
Brittany: They’re not faking it, but I think it’s more of a matter of an experience of swiping through different profiles and going on lots of dates, but our users are typically people who have done that, and they are ready to have something more concierge, something that is encouraging them to know who to go on a first date with because we are telling them who they are likely to have physical chemistry with them but also social compatibility. We will data mine your social media accounts if you link them, and then match you with people that you have the same interests and values as. You’re going on this first date with someone you already know you’re physically attracted to, and also you have a lot in common with.
Russ: Ok, but how do you balance those two, the genetics and the social activity. Could one have real compatible social activity but kind of mediocre genetics? What do you do there?
Brittany: Yes, definitely. We actually, when you look at the different profiles of the app, there’s an overall compatibility score which you can click on and it actually breaks it down. You can see how much of that is the physical chemistry and how much of that is the social compatibility. I actually tell people that you can get what you want on Pheramor. If you’re looking for someone you want to have just long discussions with, go for the social compatibility score. If you’re looking for somebody for Friday night, have a good time, the physical chemistry score. My favorite part is that if you’re looking for your soulmate, you want both of those score to be really high.
Russ: Have you been doing this long enough that you have a success story, like a marriage, maybe?
Brittany: No, we’ve only been live since March 1st, and so no marriages yet. Our customers aren’t that desperate, but they are definitely going on dates and our unique success is that people are going on second dates. Why that’s unique is because on Tinder and Bumble, people go on dates, and unless it is perfect they think, ‘well, I could just swipe one more time and get another first date and maybe it’ll be better.’ On our app, people go on first dates and even if it was mediocre, if there is a score of, let’s say, 80% compatible, these people are more determined to go on a second date and try to make it work. That’s what we’re finding to be the unique success of us. We’re using data to quite literally change people’s dating style.
Russ: I don’t really know that much about genetics other than, boy, we’re really using it for medicine these days and all sorts of things. Does the science work when it comes to matchmaking?
Brittany: Yeah, definitely. The science of pheromones is still out. We don’t know the exact pheromone molecule or concentration that makes us have, essentially, sexual arousal, but what scientists have shown is that when your immune systems are different—so, we look at the genes that encode for your immune system. When they’re more different, you’re more likely to be sexually attracted to one another via the pheromones. And why that is is evolutionary principles about having progeny with more genetic diversity, and there are dozens of studies that show that couples with diverse genetics actually have lower rates of infidelity and higher rates of fertility.
Russ: So, it’s the whole opposites attract?
Brittany: Opposites attract is biologically true.
Russ: You mentioned launching back in March. How has that been going? Do you have a lot of customers?
Brittany: Yeah, so it’s been really amazing. We have some really loyal customers that now we’re even—we have enough users that we can field the Spark Parties. We’re inviting users to come to parties and they can actually get their compatibility reports created on-site using QR codes in our match machine, so that’s pretty cool. Right now, we’re actually doing a re-launch. We’ve gathered enough data on people’s experience with the app to figure out what they liked, what they wouldn’t understand, what they loved, and right now we’re going to be doing a re-launch in August.
Russ: What are you going to change?
Brittany: The new user interface. It’s going to be a cleaner design; the buttons are going to make more sense; we are going to change our colors just a little bit, right now, we’re a gradient and we’re just going to stick with one color, tune in to find out which color it is. We’re also adding additional features. Right now, we have the score breakdown for how compatible you are genetically and also socially, but our users have told us that they want more data. We actually have a full compatibility report that you can view now. The social compatibility score not only says 80%, but it says, 80% because you both like cafes, rock climbing, and dogs. You can really get into the data.
Russ: Ok, so customers, what do they pay? How much does it cost?
Brittany: The app actually free. It’s free to download, it’s free to create a profile, free to match with people. We do charge for the genetic kit. Right now, we are only charging $20, that price is going to go up soon, but that’s really reasonable in terms of genetic kits. 23andMe sells theirs for $100, so right now that’s the only fee associated with Pheramor.
Russ: Ok, and why are you able to do it for just $20?
Brittany: Multi-faced answer to that. One is that we are only sequencing the eleven genes for attraction, and so, our cost is pretty low. Also, we have a really amazing partnership with Gift of Life, which is a bone marrow registry. The same genes for attraction, which are your immune system genes, are actually the same genes to fight leukemia and lymphoma, and so we have this awesome partnership that you can consent to being a bone marrow donor via our app, and we’ll share your HLA type with the bone marrow registry. What that means is that if you’re a match with someone with leukemia or lymphoma, you’ll be contacted to donate blood to them and save their life. Not only are we curing heartache, but we’re fighting cancer.
Russ: Save a life, find a partner. So, you haven’t had a success story there yet, have you?
Brittany: Not yet, but I cannot wait until we have a couple that met on Pheramor and, like, the little girl with leukemia that they were a match for. That would be so amazing.
Russ: Real cool. So, I know for a fact that you’ve been successful at fundraising. Tell us about that.
Brittany: We rose two rounds of funding. We rose a pre-seed round and a seed round. Currently, we are operating off of that. We had several—in the region, several angel networks that invested, including GOOSE Society, which invested in both rounds. Right now, we’re getting ready for a Series A raise, so it’s going to be a little bit bigger than an angel round and so I’m looking for good contacts to get us out to Silicon Valley and Boston to get more VC backing.
Russ: Real interesting. If you go back to the very beginning, what triggered this idea?
Brittany: I was in college at Drew University in New Jersey in a genetic seminar and we were learning about how scientists can predict who is attracted to who and I said, ‘Professor, can I make a geneharmony.com?’ He laughed and everyone kind of scoffed at saying, ‘Brittany, she says such weird things.’ He said, ‘Well, you could. That’s weird but you could.’ I said, ‘One day, I’m going to make geneharmony.’ Fast forward to about 8 years, I was finishing my Ph.D. in Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine and I was like well, you know what, I’m young, let’s do it. I was already connected with Dr. Jack Gill from GOOSE Society. I was helping TA entrepreneurship classes with him and I thought, you know what, why not? I pitched the idea, and got funding, found a co-founder, and here we are.
Russ: Really cool. So, ideally, where would the company be five years from now?
Brittany: I hope Pheramor to be the next generation of dating apps. One where you wake up in the morning and Alexa tells you who is your match for the day, and she schedules coffee for you and that match at your favorite café. One that incorporates artificial intelligence and chat bots. Something that is about taking out the secretary-ness of dating, which is scheduling and navigating it. At that point, hopefully we will be acquired by maybe Facebook or Match.com at that point so we can still exist as Pheramor, but also have the backing of a really big company so we can take this international.
Russ: Great. So, let me help you a little bit. Tell them what the website is.
Brittany: The website is pheramor.com, like pheromones and love, p-h-e-r-a-m-o-r.com, and also you can just go to the app store and download Pheramor.
Russ: One last question. So, you started here in Houston, you were at Baylor College of Medicine. We are supporting the Houston innovation ecosystem. What is it about Houston that you like that has helped you in starting your company?
Brittany: My two biggest reasons I think that Houston is the place to start your startup is there’s actually a lot of money to be had here. We rose two rounds of funding. The first round was based off an idea. People in Silicon Valley have to have a million users before they can get a round of funding, but Houston is dying for this startup culture and so they’re very willing to hear you our and hear your pitch. There’s lots of angel investing to be had here. The other one is low operations costs. We have this beautiful office here at WeWork—we actually have two offices, one for the app dev team, one for the executive team, and we’re paying very, very little prices. I think that makes our investors happy, it makes me happy when I look at the budget that Houston is a great place to do business.
Russ: Brittany, I really appreciate you sharing your story and I wish you all the luck in the world.
Brittany: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Brittany Barreto, the Co-founder and CEO of Pheramor. And this is HXTV.
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